Great expectations

You knew that, of course!

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”

The opening of arguably Charles Dickens’s greatest novel – my personal favourite – and certainly one of the finest books in the English language.

And we’re on this theme of ‘Great Expectations’ because we’re exploring this idea of “cognitive fluency” that we introduced in an earlier article.

We talked about the importance, in website design, of keeping the end product simple and also keeping it familiar.  As we said, the brain prefers to think about things that are easy to think about – but it goes deeper than that.  Let’s look at some examples of how this cognitive fluency works (and doesn’t work).

Cognitive fluency

… is the subjective experience of the ease or difficulty of completing a mental task. It refers not to the mental process itself, but rather to the feeling that people associate with the process.

So, for example, if it’s difficult to read an instruction – the brain subconsciously (and unavoidably) believes that it will similarly be difficult to carry out the instruction.  Ever been baffled by the user guides printed in tiny fonts and in multiple languages?  Or what about IKEA self-assembly instructions, by contrast with hardly any words at all?  I’m one of those who gives up on them before I even begin – as it seems so difficult, even if it isn’t really.

In one study that looked into this phenomenon, researchers presented participants with the names of hypothetical food additives and then asked them to judge how harmful they might be. People perceived additives with names that were hard to pronounce as being more harmful than those with names that were easier to pronounce. On a subconscious level, people were equating ease or difficulty of pronunciation with an assumption about familiarity. When the pronunciation seemed easy, people assumed it was because they’d previously encountered the additive and had already done the mental work of processing information about it. Since it seemed familiar, they assumed it was safe.

This leads us neatly into something called the Mere Exposure Effect.

What’s the Mere Exposure Effect?

This is the finding that the number of times people are exposed to certain stimuli positively influences their preferences for those stimuli – and as you can imagine this is therefore a hugely powerful finding for the marketing departments.  If you’ve ever wondered why some companies spend small (or not so small) fortunes on TV advertising, this is what’s behind it!

So what does all this mean for website design?

Simply this.  Your visitors will have expectations (great or otherwise) about your site when they first visit it – and you need to ensure that you meet those expectations … otherwise they’ll disappear very quickly.

We’ll be going into how you go bout this in future articles … but we’re here to help, advise, and inspire you if you can’t wait!

You can click here for our home page, here for our contact page, or call us any time on 020 7199 8713

You’ll receive a wonderful first impression before our team of experts go on to delight you with our thoughts and revelations on brilliant website design.

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